By Andrew Cohen
Berkeley Law has received a $5.5 million gift that will create an additional faculty position at the school: The Barry Tarlow Chair in Criminal Justice. Providing endowed support for a Chancellor’s Chair, which will be awarded to a tenured professor, the gift will expand the school’s influential teaching and research in the field.
“This will allow us to strengthen our already outstanding criminal justice faculty, which are widely regarded as among the very best in the country,” Dean Erwin Chemerinsky says. “Barry Tarlow was an eminent criminal defense attorney and I am thrilled that we will honor his legacy by having a permanent chair named in his memory.”
Tarlow had designated fellow prominent criminal defense lawyer Marcia Morrissey as successor adviser to his charitable trust. Upon his death in 2021, she became responsible for distributing the funds, which Tarlow wished to donate to one of four law schools and outlined various options.
“I decided that a donation to Berkeley Law to establish the Barry Tarlow Chair in Criminal Justice would best fulfill Barry’s intent,” Morrissey says. “Every law student learns about the basics of criminal law, just as they learn about property law, civil procedure, or any of the courses typically required during one’s first year of law school. An advanced course in criminal law or a criminal law clinical program for those with an interest in this area of the law exposes students to the actual work of practicing attorneys.
“This experience can be professionally life-changing. It introduces students to the complexities of a career in defending or prosecuting a citizen accused of a crime, the ethical and moral responsibilities such a career entails, and the areas of this practice that are in need of reform. And, hopefully, it will inspire students to participate in and generate meaningful change in the criminal justice system.”
Berkeley Law’s criminal justice faculty includes leading criminologists, renowned experts in criminal law, criminal procedure, and international criminal law law, top practitioners, and scholars who bring an interdisciplinary approach to the field’s most pressing problems.
“We are overflowing with gratitude to Marcia,” says Professor and fellow capital defense attorney Elisabeth Semel, director of the school’s Death Penalty Clinic. “She recognized that the new chair will further enhance Berkeley Law’s reputation as an institution committed to preparing students to practice with the skill, commitment, and integrity that characterized Barry Tarlow’s career, and to supporting scholarship that puts more ‘justice’ into the criminal law field.”
A giant in his field
Tarlow was a prominent criminal defense lawyer profiled among “Ten of the Best Winning Trial Lawyers” in America by the National Law Journal. In 1998, Los Angeles Magazine included him on its “Most Powerful Lawyers in Town” list and named him the top “gunslinger” among Los Angeles County’s 40,000 lawyers.
An International Academy of Trial Lawyers fellow, he won the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Robert Heeney Memorial Award for lifetime achievement, a special award from the Los Angeles Criminal Courts Bar Association recognizing “his prominence as a brilliant advocate and as a zealous defender of constitutional rights,” and the Century City Bar Association’s Criminal Defense Lawyer of the Year Award. One of the nation’s leading authorities in the defense of RICO prosecutions, he was selected annually as one of California’s “Super Lawyers” from 2005 to 2018.
Tarlow graduated first in his class from Boston University School of Law and was senior editor of its law review. A former U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, in private practice he defended individuals and corporations in cases ranging from tax evasion and environmental violations to money laundering and homicide in federal and state courts throughout the country.
Tarlow also represented numerous celebrities accused of crimes — he was named among eight of “L.A.’s Celebrity Defenders” in a California Law Business article titled “The Stars’ Bar,” and profiled in the New York Times Magazine as one of six attorneys in “L.A.’s Exclusive Club of Celebrity Lawyers.” He maintained an extensive federal and state appellate practice in addition to his trial practice, representing defendants in numerous significant appeals which had widespread implications for the criminal defense bar.
A prolific author who wrote over 325 articles and books dealing with criminal practice and procedure, Tarlow lectured at law schools and seminars throughout the country. Extremely active in various bar organizations, he served as president of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice — the 3,000-member state criminal defense lawyers’ bar association.
Tarlow also was vice chair of the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section, served on the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Board of Directors, and co-chaired the RICO Prosecutions Committee. From 2005 through 2008 he served on the Criminal Law Advisory Commission of the State Bar, which reviews all criminal law specialist applications for certification and recertification.
“When someone who has given so much of his life to the pursuit of criminal justice makes this kind of investment in the future of that struggle, it is an extraordinary event,” says Lance Robbins Professor of Criminal Justice Law Jonathan Simon J.D. ’87 Ph.D. ’90. “But this also comes at an extraordinary time when California is at the forefront of reform and Berkeley Law is an engine of new thinking in the field.”